Do food sensitivities get worse if you remove the culprit from your diet
December 18, 2013 7:20 PM   Subscribe

Over the last few months I have developed a food sensitivity (I believe the culprit is rice). It is merely annoying at the moment, but I was wondering what happens when you remove an item to which you are sensitive from your diet? Generally speaking, does your sensitivity get worse?

I will be getting a qualified medical opinion on this, but I was just curious if sensitivities get worse when you cut the offending item out of your diet. Or would the sensitivity just get worse regardless? I'm inclined to believe that as a 35 year-old who just developed this sensitivity, that it would just get worse no matter what. I haven't cut out rice from my diet, and it has gotten worse over the last few months.

Anecdotally, though, my mom has been battling food allergies for the last 5 years, and it seems like when she accidentally stumbles across the foods that trigger her allergies, her reactions are a lot worse than they were before she cut them out. Also, this rigorously researched Gizmodo article seems to suggest that if you didn't have a gluten sensitivity and you cut out gluten, then you might have one when you eat gluten again.

Thanks for any insight!
posted by baniak to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have some food allergies (oral allergy syndrome, which means I can't eat certain raw fruits and vegetables) and cutting those foods out entirely (in their raw form anyway) has improved my life drastically. Instead of getting a fuzzy mouth after eating a salad and having no idea why, I know what to avoid and it has benefited my relationship with food, especially raw, whole, healthy food.

Also, earlier this year I did Paleo for a few months and when I added back gluten, I noticed my skin got itchy immediately. I had noticed itchy skin years before, and talked to a dermatologist about it, who was like, "I have no idea, use this medicated stuff." But now I'm pretty sure it's gluten. In the last week I've basically decided I just might not be able to do gluten unless in tiny amounts.

To answer your question - I don't *think* the sensitivity increased when I added the food back, but I think I might notice it more. My mom is a doctor although not a dietary/digestive specialist, and said I might as well cut back/cut out gluten if it's making me itchy because the sensitivity could get worse. I think that makes sense.

In any case I feel like the point of elimination diets is to find out where the sensitivities are and adjust your diet accordingly, and personally I see that as positive and empowering.
posted by sweetkid at 7:34 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What really causes allergic reactions is your own immune system. It mistakes these innocuous allergens for a serious threat and attacks them. The symptoms of an allergy are the result of a body's misguided assault.

It begins with exposure. Even if you've inhaled an allergen many times before with no trouble, at some point, for some reason, the body flags it as an invader. During this particular exposure, the immune system studies the allergen. It readies itself for the next exposure by developing antibodies, special cells designed to detect it. You are now "sensitized" to the allergen.

Then, the next time you're exposed to the allergen, your immune system kicks into action. The antibodies recognize it. That triggers the activation of special cells called mast cells. These cells are responsible for allergy symptoms in the lungs, skin, and lining of the nose and intestinal tract.

The mast cells burst open, flooding the system with chemicals such as histamine. These chemicals cause allergy symptoms, like swelling. Swelling in your nasal passages might cause a runny nose. Swelling in the airways could cause asthma symptoms.

Keep in mind that the amount of exposure matters. If you're allergic to strawberries, maybe eating one or two never causes any symptoms. But once you eat three or four, you may suddenly break out in hives. There's a tipping point -- or threshold -- for people with allergies. You can handle some exposure, but if it gets to be too much, the immune system is triggered to attack.
posted by JujuB at 7:49 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: What JujuB said is true for bona fide allergies but not necessarily for food intolerances, which have a variety of causes (like missing sufficient amounts of an enzyme, in the case of lactose intolerance). So the short answer is that depending on the precise mechanism of intolerance, it could either get worse or get better. Sorry that's not more helpful.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:13 PM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

I googled around a bit and couldn't find a definitive answer, but I noticed that after I began adding dairy back into my diet after being vegan for a few months, I definitely experienced some lactose intolerance. I powered through it, and oddly it seemed to get better. Yay cheese.
posted by lettuce dance at 10:20 PM on December 18, 2013

If your intolerance is antibody mediated, after a certain amount of time the existing antibodies will degrade and your body will stop making new ones, because your immune system isn't going to waste its time making antibodies for a stimulus it doesn't encounter anymore.
Of course, re-exposure will kickstart the system and you'll make all those antibodies again, but it might mean a delayed response.
posted by chiquitita at 12:33 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I only have anecdotal evidence, but my long-standing mild intolerance to bell peppers got really bad this year, to the extent that I cut them out entirely (which sucks because lazy chefs use them constantly to bulk out vegetarian food instead of actually making it interesting). When I ate a very small amount by mistake a month or so ago (in some curry I didn't prepare and which I really, really wasn't expecting to have green pepper in it), the reaction I got was worse than the (fairly bad) reactions I'd been getting around the time I cut the peppers out. YMMV.
posted by terretu at 2:29 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: After you stop the stimulus the existing antibody-producing cells will go away in the short term, but you still have memory B cells that are specific to the same antigen and that can be easily re-activated. Those last for up to 10 years post-exposure. This is the same reason why you need a new tetanus shot once every decade or so.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:39 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

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